Affiliated CFS: Kibirigwi Cooperative Society
Location: Kirinyaga, Nyeri
Nearest Town/Centre: Karatina
Average Annual Rainfall (mm): 1500
Altitude (masl): 1310-1900 Process: Washed
Drying Method: Sun
Harvest Method: Handpicking
Main Harvest Season: November – January
Varieties: SL 28 & SL 34
Soil: Rich red volcanic soil
Kiangai village is located 7 km from Karatina bordering Nyeri and Kirinyaga counties. Farmers use the Kiangai washing station which is part of Kibirigwi Cooperative Society together with another 8 factories (Ragati, Nguguini, Mukangu, Kibingoti, Thunguri, Kianjege, Chewa and Kibirigwi). This is a large society with approximately 7,200 active members producing 750,000 kgs of clean coffee annually. Farmers take ripe cherries to be processed in centralized wet mills, where they are pulped, fermented, washed and sun dried. Dry parchment is then moved to a dry mill for further processing and grading before reaching the weekly auctions in Nairobi.
Coffee production in Kenya dates back to the late 1880’s, when is thought to have been brought by the French Missionaries to the Taita Hills area. Introduced into the Kiambu district in 1896, it found a great combination of altitude, soils and temperature that results in the high quality for which Kenyan coffee is known for around the world.
Still today, the biggest coffee growing area spreads from Kiambu, on the outskirts of Nairobi, up to the slopes of Mount Kenya. The Counties in this region also known as Central Kenya – Kiambu, Kirinyaga, Murang’a and Nyeri – have an annual production of around 39,000 metric tons of green coffee, which counts for almost 70% of the national production. Other coffee growing areas are: Machakos (Eastern Kenya), Bungoma (Western Kenya) and Kisii (Nyanza region) but volumes are significantly smaller.
Although patterns may differ from area to area, Kenya is generally known to have two main rainy seasons which dictate two crops. Long rains happen from March to May, while a shorter rainy season happens around October. The dry spells that anticipate those trigger two flowering periods: February/March for the country’s main crop, and September for the early/’fly’ crop. That means coffee will be harvested from September to December for the main crop, and from May up to July for the early crop. While central areas are able to produce and deliver coffee in both seasons, Machakos, for example, is known for producing almost only during early crop.
Soils are volcanic and very rich in organic matter, and the altitude in coffee growing areas ranges from a minimum of 1280m in Embu, Eastern part of Mount Kenya region, to a high of 2300m in Nyeri, on the Western slopes.
Organization & Processing
Nowadays, approximately 55 % of all coffee production comes from smallholder farms, but that can vary from area to area (Kiambu 14%, Kirinyaga 72%, Machakos 80%). Smallholder farmers are organized in Cooperative Societies, these own the wet mills where farmers deliver ripe cherries. At wet mills (also known as factories) cherries get pulped and ferment for approx. 24 hours. After fermentation, coffee is then soaked in tanks full of water and washed in channels. Still at the washing state, coffee is graded in P1 (heaviest parchment), P2 and lights (floaters); and any remaining cherries are removed and processed separately. Coffee is sun dried on raised tables and drying can take up to 3 weeks. At night and during the hottest periods, parchment is covered so that drying is homogenous. Dry parchment is then delivered to a centralized dry mill to be processed, screened and marketed at the weekly auctions in Nairobi.